Weekend open thread: Exposing abuse edition

What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

The Pulitzer Prizes announced this week recognized some powerful reporting on the misuse of power. The Associated Press won the public service award for "an investigation of severe labor abuses tied to the supply of seafood to American supermarkets and restaurants, reporting that freed 2,000 slaves, brought perpetrators to justice and inspired reforms." Margie Mason, Robin McDowell, Martha Mendoza, and Esther Htusan contributed to this incredible investigative work; the whole series is available here.

The Washington Post won the Pulitzer’s national reporting category for its "revelatory initiative in creating and using a national database to illustrate how often and why the police shoot to kill and who the victims are most likely to be." The database is available here; reporters who contributed to this work include Kimberly Kindy, Wesley Lowery, Keith L. Alexander, Kimbriell Kelly, Sandhya Somashekhar, Julie Tate, Amy Brittain, Marc Fisher, Scott Higham, Derek Hawkins, and Jennifer Jenkins. In one of the articles for this series, Kindy and Tate explored the common practice of police departments withholding video footage of fatal shootings, using the January 2015 death of Autumn Steele in Burlington, Iowa as the touchpoint.

The Pulitzer for explanatory reporting went to T. Christian Miller of ProPublica and Ken Armstrong of The Marshall Project "for a startling examination and exposé of law enforcement’s enduring failures to investigate reports of rape properly and to comprehend the traumatic effects on its victims." An Unbelievable Story of Rape was a stunning and depressing piece.

Speaking of stunning and depressing, previously unreported abuses of teenagers at the now-closed Midwest Academy boarding school came to light earlier this year. Several former students spoke to Ryan Foley of the Associated Press about being kept in isolation boxes for days or weeks at a time. (Isolation is particularly harmful to developing adolescent brains.) The Des Moines Register’s Lee Rood reported on approximately 80 law enforcement calls to the facility in Keokuk during the last three years the school was open. Abusive practices by staff went back more than a decade, though.

No state agency had ever inspected the Midwest Academy, prompting calls for the Iowa legislature to prevent future problems at unregulated schools. The Iowa Senate unanimously approved a bill setting out certification and inspection standards for boarding schools. House Republicans amended Senate File 2304 before approving it in the lower chamber, making "some exemptions for religious facilities." The Senate refused to concur in the House amendment, and on a mostly party-line vote, the House rejected the Senate version. The school oversight bill now goes to a conference committee. I hope lawmakers will work out a deal before adjourning, but this legislation is not a must-pass bill like the health and human services budget (currently hung up over disagreements on Medicaid oversight and Planned Parenthood funding).

Alleged verbal abuse by Iowa State University women’s basketball coach Bill Fennelly was among the actions that inspired a discrimination lawsuit by former star player Nikki Moody. The AP’s Luke Meredith and Ryan Foley broke news about that lawsuit on April 18. After the jump I’ve enclosed excerpts from their report and some reaction, but I highly recommend reading the plaintiff’s jaw-dropping twelve-page court filing. Looking through some Cyclone fan board threads about the lawsuit, I was struck by two contradictory lines of argument from the coach’s defenders: Moody is lying, because this or that former player says Fen was always supportive and would never behave that way; or alternatively, Moody is lying, because Fen is tough on all his players, not just the black ones. Cheyenne Shepherd, an unheralded player for ISU during the 1990s, provided strong support for Moody in a guest column for the Des Moines Register about her experience as one of Fennelly’s "non-favorites." Retired ISU journalism professor Dick Haws discussed the "not-very-well-hidden secret" of how Fennelly berates and humiliates some of his players. Gavin Aronsen asked at Iowa Informer whether the lawsuit is "A Symptom of Broader Diversity Problems at ISU."

Since Thursday, I’ve been reading reflections on the life and work of Prince. I remembered his exceptional creativity, charisma, and talent as a songwriter (for many other artists as well as for himself), but I didn’t realize how highly regarded he was as a guitarist. His solo during this performance of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" was mesmerizing. Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top described Prince’s "sensational" guitar playing in an interview with the Washington Post: "Even today, I’m struggling to try and emulate that guitar introduction to ‘When Doves Cry.’ It’s just a testament to his extraordinary technique." The whole "Purple Rain" album brings back strong high school memories for me, especially "When Doves Cry." Prince’s biggest fan in the Iowa blogosphere was John Deeth, easily recognized at political events by his raspberry beret. Deeth reflected on what the music meant to him here.

Continue Reading...

The Des Moines Register is looking for a new chief politics reporter

The Des Moines Register announced in late March that Jennifer Jacobs was leaving the newspaper after twelve years, the last five as chief politics reporter. A national search is under way for her successor, who will handle "top-level political reporting, including breaking news, Iowa Poll results, analysis of the Iowa political scene and how it relates to the national conversation."

As a heavy consumer of Iowa political journalism, I look forward to seeing someone new take on this important job. I wish Jacobs all the best covering the presidential campaign for Bloomberg News, but it’s no secret I wasn’t a fan of how she approached her beat, sometimes seeming to favor certain candidates, recycling comments reported by others as clickbait, and even occasionally allowing newsmakers to review a full story draft before publication.

While campaigns and elections will remain the primary focus for the Register’s chief politics reporter, I hope Jacobs’ successor will also dig in to the work of Iowa’s elected officials at the state and federal level. Though the Register’s editors seem to like the "8 things to watch for" genre, my preference would be for less speculation about what might happen and more scoops on what politicians have done or said, especially actions that were never intended to reach a wide audience (as opposed to news leaked with the goal of maximizing exposure in Iowa’s leading newspaper).

I enclose below excerpts from the job listing Gannett posted on April 11. Another must-read for any journalist thinking about applying: the memo Gannett circulated in early 2015 on "Minimal job requirements of a self-directed reporter" at the Des Moines Register.

Continue Reading...

Two bizarre takes on the IA-Sen Democratic primary

Patty Judge’s decision to run for U.S. Senate was Iowa’s biggest political news last week. Taking their cue from Washington-based pols who recruited the former lieutenant governor, many national reporters who covered the story took for granted that Judge will be the Democratic challenger to six-term Senator Chuck Grassley, glossing over the fact that she will face serious competition in the June primary.

On the flip side, the Des Moines Register’s Kathie Obradovich and Howie Klein of the Down With Tyranny! blog recently made some odd assessments in their reviews of the Democratic race for Senate.

Continue Reading...

Weekend open thread: Iowa Ag Summit anniversary edition

What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

A year ago this weekend, nine presidential candidates, both of Iowa’s U.S. senators, three of our U.S. House representatives, Governor Terry Branstad, and Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds were among the speakers at Bruce Rastetter’s inaugural Iowa Ag Summit. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was the early front-runner in the presidential field and had just rolled out his first big batch of endorsements here. Although Donald Trump had recently hired heavyweight conservative organizer Chuck Laudner, few people expected him to be a strong contender for the Iowa caucuses. The billionaire didn’t make it to Rastetter’s event; like Marco Rubio, he initially accepted the Ag Summit invitation but developed schedule conflicts later.

Jeb Bush looked like a strong presidential contender in March 2015. He was raising money like no one else in the GOP field and had hired veteran Iowa political operative David Kochel earlier in the year. The day before the Ag Summit, the Des Moines Register ran a front-page feature on Bush that was so flattering to the former Florida governor, I felt compelled to write this post and begin work on a lengthier critique of the Register’s political coverage, which took nearly two months to complete.

Chris Christie was among the Ag Summit speakers. More than six months later, he picked up endorsements from Rastetter and several other prominent Iowa business Republicans. Christie’s poor performance on caucus night showed the limits of the would-be kingmaker’s influence, and that of others in Branstad’s orbit who had actively supported Christie’s presidential campaign.

Rastetter invited more than a half-dozen prominent Democrats to his Ag Summit. Wisely, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and all of the potential presidential candidates blew off the event. Only one Democrat spoke to the gathering: former Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge, in her capacity as co-chair of America’s Renewable Future. That group was formed and funded by biofuels companies and related interest groups to advocate for the Renewable Fuel Standard. (Later in 2015, America’s Renewable Future spent more than $100,000 on radio ads and direct mail attacking Ted Cruz over his stand on the ethanol mandate.)

I enclose below a video of Judge’s remarks a year ago this weekend. Near the beginning of her speech, she commented, "Let me say from the outset, I truly believe that I disagree with just almost everyone that you will see on this stage today, on almost every issue. However, I certainly hope that we do agree on the importance of maintaining the Renewable Fuel Standard and keeping Iowa leading our nation forward in the development of renewable fuel."

I doubt anyone would have predicted a year ago that Walker wouldn’t even make it to the Iowa caucuses, that Trump and Cruz would be leading in the GOP delegate count, or that Judge would enter the race against U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley.

P.S.- The Greeley (Colorado) Tribune published a good backgrounder on where all the remaining presidential candidates stand on agricultural issues.

Continue Reading...

Casual sexism in the Iowa House becomes easy clickbait for Radio Iowa

The Iowa House Government Oversight Committee wasted more time today arguing over efforts by some Republicans to investigate last year’s Governor’s Conference on LGBTQ Youth. For background on the controversy surrounding the annual event organized by the non-profit Iowa Safe Schools, see reporting by Iowa statehouse correspondents William Petroski and James Q. Lynch, as well as Mark Joseph Stern’s article for Slate. Committee Chair Bobby Kaufmann could be directing his oversight energy toward the governor’s hasty privatization of the Medicaid program, which will affect health care for one in six Iowans. But no, Kaufmann asserts "it would be a dereliction of my duty if we did not have an investigation" of the Governor’s Conference on LGBTQ Youth, attended by roughly a thousand people last year. (I am a longtime supporter of the conference but play no role in planning it.)

Iowa Safe Schools Executive Director Nate Monson has declined invitations from Kaufmann’s committee to testify about the conference. Today Democratic State Representative Mary Wolfe, a defense attorney by trade, and Republican State Representative Dawn Pettengill, occasionally prone to paranoid fears, disagreed over whether Monson should be compelled to appear. I’ve enclosed below excerpts from their remarks at the latest committee meeting.

House Republican Clel Baudler interrupted the exchange to declare it a "catfight," "eliciting laughter from some committee members, including Pettengill," by Lynch’s account.

It’s disappointing but not surprising that an Iowa lawmaker would belittle two of his female colleagues by reducing their substantive disagreement to a "catfight."

Equally disappointing and much more surprising: O.Kay Henderson validated Baudler’s assessment by elevating his description to the headline and lede of her story for Radio Iowa. Putting the word in quotation marks signified that the label came from someone other than the journalist. Nevertheless, a story called "Committee ‘catfight’ over panel’s subpoena power," with the opening sentence "One committee member today used the word ‘catfight’ to describe this debate," gave Baudler’s interjection more importance than it warranted. Henderson’s reports reach thousands of Iowans, not only online but also through more than 50 affiliate radio stations.

In contrast, Lynch played it straight with his title ("Iowa lawmakers clash on scope of oversight in LGBT case") and lede ("Members of an Iowa House committee that reviews the performance of state agencies clashed Wednesday over the scope of its authority to compel testimony from members of the public"). He mentioned Baudler’s comment near the end of the story, where the colorful detail belonged.

I don’t expect Baudler to provide enlightened commentary on legislative happenings. I do expect one of Iowa’s most accomplished and respected female journalists not to seize on a sexist cheap shot as clickbait.

Continue Reading...

Cedar Rapids Gazette lets reporters grab other people's scoops without attribution

Attribution such as "first reported by" is an appropriate way for journalists to acknowledge another media outlet’s role in breaking news. The Center for Investigative Reporting’s Ethics Guide states,

Any information taken from other published or broadcast sources should receive credit within the body of the story. Reporters and editors also should be aware of previously published/broadcast work on the same subject and give those news organizations credit if they have broken new ground or published exclusive material before any others.

One of Iowa’s leading newspapers doesn’t hold its reporters to the same standard.

Continue Reading...
View More...